On the morning of Feb. 1, 1929 Thomas B. White Warden of the Federal Prison is at work in his office when his attention is drawn to a group of new inmates being admitted.
On the morning of Feb. 1, 1929 Thomas B. White Warden of the Federal Prison is at work in his office when his attention is drawn to a group of new inmates being admitted. As the group of 32 passed by the open door of his office nothing about them set them apart from any other criminal Warden White had ever encountered. White had grown up in Austin, Texas, where his father Emmet served as the sheriff of Travis County. The family home set adjacent to the jail and Tom’s bedroom window looked down into the cell area of the jail. Tom along with his brothers Dudley, Coleman and James would pass their time watching their father as he dealt with every type of criminal there was. White’s career as a lawman began in March 1906 with his enlistment into Company A of the Texas Rangers and continued through his work as a railroad detective and the FBI. His first experience inside a prison came in 1924 when he was assigned to the federal prison in Atlanta to investigate irregularities and illegal activities by that prison’s administration.
As the warden continued his observation of the new arrivals his attention was drawn to one in particular.
At first glance it was apparent that this man was a murderer, but his mannerisms and appearance held the qualities of a viciousness and ruthlessness unlike any other.
Inquiring the warden learned that the inmate was suspected of killing several people.
White had been advised by the escorting officials that the inmate was extremely dangerous and should be placed in isolation at once.
During the in-processing the inmate was given his gray prison uniform with the number 31614. As all inmates of the day he was led into an office where Deputy Warden Fred Zerbst lectured him on the rules and expectations, he was assigned a job in the prisons laundry.
When ask by Zerbst if he had anything to say the burly inmate shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I’ll kill the first man that bothers me.”
Eighty-three years have passed since Carl Panzram entered the federal prison here at Leavenworth. Through those years a book and movie titled Killer: A Journal of Murder along with countless newspaper and magazine articles have chronicled the life of one of the 20th centuries most vicious killers. A google search of the name Carl Panzram will produce more than 20,000 hits. Now a new feature length documentary is set to tell the definitive story of how this ruthless killer came to be. Where it all began and how it all ended.
As a child Chicago native John Borowski grew up watching classic horror films and has always been interested in the macabre and unusual. We first met in October 2008 while the producer was shooting scenes for the film on location here in Leavenworth. During the morning shooting consisted of several external shots of the federal prison and the old Disciplinary Barracks on Fort Leavenworth along with other sites around town.
That evening my interview was conducted in the Kansas Room of the Leavenworth Public Library. Since 2008 John and I have remained friends and we both knew that when the film was nearing release it would be my turn to interview him.
The film was released to DVD Oct. 2 and as that date neared I asked my friend several questions. I had previewed his two previous films documenting the lives of serial killers H.H. Holmes and Albert Fish and they made me wonder, how does one become so interested in serial killers, what is it about these people that draws you in. Borowski relates, “It wasn’t until the Jeffrey Dahmer case that I was aware of serial killers and the impact they have made on society.” The father of a close friend was a police detective and this allowed a teenaged Borowski to have full access to the complete Dahmer file including photos Dahmer had taken of his dismembered victims. Even though he was repulsed at what he had read and seen Borowski became intrigued and wondered how a human being could continue to commit numerous murders and not feel remorse. “I am interested in the psychology of serial killers and that is what I seek to convey in my films. I always tell people that I wish to study serial killers and not be one!”
Borowski studied filmmaking at Columbia College in Chicago making sure to take classes that would make him a well rounded producer and director. Classes that included editing, lighting, screenwriting, sound recording/ design and even acting.
Life for an independent filmmaker can be tough. Filming the movie not only brought the award- winning producer/director to Leavenworth but had him traveling to California, Missouri, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Illinois and New York. All at his own expense. There were setbacks that almost made me give up says Borowski.
A hard drive containing parts filmed at San Diego State crashed. Filming the exteriors of four separate penitentiaries even proved challenging at times. At Clinton Prison in Dannemora, N.Y., Bowroski received permission to film but was interrupted hourly by a different officer asking questions of what they were up to. “Admittedly one of the major issues with being an independent filmmaker is that I spend the majority of my time on the computer, contacting people, writing scripts, creating budgets, and editing.
It is so refreshing when I can meet, speak with and work with the experts and artist.” For this film actor John DiMaggio becomes the voice of Panzram reading excerpts from the nearly 40,000-word writings of the serial killer. DiMaggio whose voice appears in hundreds of animated movies, video games, and television productions is remembered for being the voice of the character Bender from the television series Futurama. Scott Reyersson who created the ad campaign for the movie Silence of the Lambs created several key props for the production. All of the reenactments were filmed at the old Chicago Police Station where the movie Public Enemies featuring Johnny Depp was filmed.
“Ever since I was young, movies have been a constant source of entertainment for me. We would wait for television to broadcast films such as Jaws or Psycho and it was an event where we would gather around the television. I began to study the films, learn the names of the cast and crew, I became a fan of Hitchcock and Scorsese. I initially desired to become a special makeup artist and create creature and character makeup for films but when I began to film 8mm short films, I knew I wanted to make films for the rest of my life as that was my passion. There was no feeling that could compare to having the film reel return after being developed and watching the rushes,” says Borowski.
The release date for the one hour and 20 minute feature-length film was Oct. 2. It is being released straight to DVD with plans for a local premiere and meet the producer in the works.
Orders for the DVD which include an additional 1 hour and 30 minutes of outtakes, behind the scenes, deleted scenes and interviews may be purchased at www.panzram.com. The movie’s official trailer with cast credits and production stills may also be seen at the website.
The first 1,000 DVDs also include a limited edition autographed card as well as free shipping and handling.